Watching Pedagogical Content Experts

The Career Pathways that are part of the R3 Program to recruit, retain, and reward our best educators allows our teacher leaders to learn, explore, and collaborate to tackle instructional problems of practice. I have been thinking recently about what our teachers need to be able to do in order to begin the process of addressing those problems of practice. The primary purpose of R3 is to keep our best educators in the classroom while giving them the opportunity to expand their influence and lead teachers as well as students. As teachers in the classroom, teachers can address what they know and how they teach what needs to be learned by students.

I’ve been thinking and writing a lot about the important balance of teacher content knowledge and pedagogical knowledge. Lee Shulman coined the concept of Pedagogical Content Knowledge in 1986 to explain the the relationship of three types of teacher understanding and knowledge: pedagogical knowledge; content knowledge; and pedagogical content knowledge as the intersection of the two prior types.

Teachers have to become content experts and really understand what they are teaching in order to teach students to understand difficult concepts. I had the opportunity to partner with the Social Studies department of DPI to host a Teaching American History seminar on Civil Rights in America on Saturday, March 3rd.  Teachers from across northeastern NC, including teachers who participated in the Key BT and TLI programs had the opportunity to dive deep into primary historical sources. The dedication of those educators was impressive. They realized that they had to understand the content at a deep level before they could really engage their students in learning.

“Those who can do. Those who understand teach.” L. Shulman, 1986

After learning the content, these teachers will collaborate to build inquiries using a Canvas course hosted by the NC Department of Public Instruction. Inquiry is the pedagogy these teachers will use to teach the content they learned. Inquiry is a method of teaching and learning that uses engaging questions and scaffolds disciplinary thinking to guide students as they construct their own understanding of a topic. In Social Studies, provides a specific method and resources for teachers to learn inquiry pedagogy from and with other teachers.


Sitting at the back of the seminar, I was able to watch these teachers learn and think. I pondered the possibilities of what might happen as these teachers build their inquiries. How might they be able to grow professionally and then lead other teachers how to use the content and pedagogy they learned. This is what R3 and specifically the Facilitating Teacher position is all about.

Inquiry in Social Studies could be a potentially powerful way for our great teachers to design new instructional methods to combine the content knowledge they have with the an effective pedagogy to help students understand that content. No matter what the instructional problem of practice is, it’s empowering our great teachers that has the biggest potential to actually improve how we do business in Pitt County Schools.


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